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With the gateway to the redwoods on one side and California's wine country on the other, Lake Mendocino is an extraordinary vacation destination. The lake offers year-round camping, hiking, and fishing, but the lake is most popular in the summer. The quiet spring, fall, and winter seasons offer a pace to suit everyone.
Lake Mendocino is an impoundment of the Russian River created by the Coyote Valley Dam. The earthen dam, built in 1958 across the east fork of the Russian River, flooded the Coyote Valley resulting in the relocation of some residents as well as part of State Route 20. The lake is owned and operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers and is used for flood control, water conservation, and hydroelectric power in addition to recreation. Water levels in Lake Mendocino fluctuate based on the amount of winter precipitation and Russian River inflows, so check current lake levels before your visit.
Lake Mendocino is home to healthy populations of largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass, along with black and white crappie. There are also bluegill, redear sunfish, tule perch, and white and channel catfish. Anglers can fish for trout in nearby rivers.
The California Department of Fish and Game runs the Coyote Valley Dam Steelhead Egg Collection Facility at the dam. Visitors to Lake Mendocino can watch the biologists collect the trout eggs, but they don't hatch on site. The eggs are fertilized then sent to hatch at nearby Lake Sonoma. The yearling fish come back to Lake Mendocino and after spending around 30 days in one of the eight race ways, they are released into the Russian River. Three to five years later the trout return to spawn. The Collection Facility is open from December through April. The Bill Townsend Fish Hatchery is also open for tours. The hatchery is run by the Ukiah Rod and Gun Club, and they hatch 50,000 steelhead trout each year.
Lake Mendocino has several boat launches, and waterskiing is a popular watersport. The northwest shore has a designated swimming beach, but swimming is allowed almost everywhere in the lake. There are some boat-in only waterside campsites at Miti Campground. Kyen Campground also has waterside campsites, but they are the most popular at Lake Mendocino and require reservations. There are over 300 campsites in four campgrounds as well as several covered picnic pavilions. The lake has around fifteen miles of hiking trails including some for bikes and horses. The campgrounds, trails and pavilion are named with Pomo Indian words.
The Pomo Indians were the area's original native people. The Pomo Cultural Center, on the north end of Lake Mendocino, has an outdoor amphitheatre and is modeled after a traditional Pomo roundhouse. The Center, opened in the early 1980's, is operated by the Coyote Band of Pomos and the US Army Corps of Engineers and has exhibits of Pomo dancing, money, basket making, and hunting.
Wildlife is prevalent in Lake Mendocino's 700 acre wilderness area. There are bobcats, black bear and even cougars or mountain lions in the wildlife management area on the east side of the lake. The California Department of Fish and Game allows shotgun hunting for small game and migratory and game birds including ducks, doves and quail. There are both spring and fall wild turkey hunts.
Lake Mendocino is about five miles from Ukiah in Mendocino County. Originally the Pomo Indians called themselves Yokaya meaning "people of the south or deep valley." The name was changed by the Europeans to Ukiah. Ukiah has restaurants, museums, and a variety of accommodations and amenities for visitors to Lake Mendocino. The lake is about two hours north of the Bay area and 120 miles from San Francisco.
Tucked in the foothills of the Northern Coastal Range, surrounded by wine country and redwoods, Lake Mendocino is a fantastic retreat for the entire family.
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